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UN secretary-general Guterres criticizes space tourism

BlueOrigin crew. Image: Getty

Edinburgh 27 September, 2021. – António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, mentioned space tourism alongside corruption and loss of freedoms as cause for the ever-increasing gap between socioeconomic groups.

Addressing the General Assembly, Guterres said “billionaires joyriding to space” led to the growing mistrust towards governments and the values of the UN.

Guterres did not mention anyone by name but his comments may have been aimed at Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX.

As the Covid-19 pandemic exposed inequalities in wealth, a backlash started with the flights of Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic). Just moments after Bezos and his crew landed, congressman Earl Blumenauer announced plans to tax space tourism flights. He said that people who fly into space without any scientific purpose should pay taxes as if they were traveling by airplane.

Jean-Marc Nasr, executive vice president at Airbus said that everyone should benefit from space, not only a few billionaires. Drew Shindell, professor at Duke University added that commercial space travel was not a valuable use of time and effort. However, George Nield, member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel declared that these launches were significant in bringing the new era of commercial human spaceflight. He argued that these space trips would lower costs, increase innovation and develop workforce in the sector.

Guterres added that the development of space tourism missions should not be in the forefront amid a public health- and climate change crisis.

The cost of tickets to board Branson’s Virgin Galactic is over US $250,000 per passenger. SpaceX and Blue Origin tickets are most likely going to be even more expensive. On the other hand, SpaceX promised to share all their flight data with NASA. They also raised over US $200 million for St Jude Children Research Hospital with their Inspiration4 mission.

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